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Why we must fix our immigration system

Ranging a bit far afield from the usual topics of this blog but dealing with a subject of professional interest, a couple recent items reinforced this country’s problem with immigration. It isn’t illegal immigrants — it’s the fact our immigration system is broken.

Our immigration law labyrinth is not only a factor in illegal immigration, it adversely affects our ability to bring the world’s “best and the brightest” to America. Just how big a problem the latter is requires a brief summary of some immigration basics.

What everyone calls a “green card” is the end result of the process to become a legal permanent resident (LPR) of the United States — an immigrant. As the name suggests, LPRs can live and work permanently in the U.S., with or without eventually taking the steps to become a citizen. Green cards fall into two broad classes — employment-based and family-based. Two frequently used employment-based routes are the EB-2 and the EB-3 visas. Not only do both normally require a U.S. employer offer the individual full-time, permanent employment, the employer must prove to the U.S. Department of Labor that U.S. workers have been recruited for the job and are unavailable. Roughly 90 percent of these visas have additional rather stringent requirements.

The EB-2 is limited to professionals with an advanced degree or persons of “exceptional ability” in the sciences, arts, or business. Thus, it is often used by doctors and scientists. Three-quarters of the EB-3 visas are reserved for professionals with bachelor’s degrees and “skilled workers,” those filling positions that require a minimum of two years of training and experience. This would include many computer professionals, software designers and health care occupations. Now it makes sense that we would want these types of workers in the U.S., particularly when the federal government says no American worker is adversely affected.

Here’s the rub. Under our current system, less than 100,000 of these visas are available annually, allocated by country of birth (not citizenship). That means some extremely long waits. According to Charles Kuck, the 2008-09 president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, nearly 53,000 people born in India and China have been approved but are still waiting for EB-2 green cards. Another 140,000 people are waiting for EB-3 visas. Neither figure includes roughly 150,000 applications already somewhere in the application process.

What’s that mean in real life? While admitting his calculations might be a bit rough, Kuck figures:

  • A person born in India who starts the process for an EB-3 visa today will wait 15.8 years before a green card will be available.
  • There will be a 4.1 year wait for a Chinese-born person who applies for an EB-2 visa today.
  • The worldwide wait for an EB-3 visa for a person filing today is 8.1 years.

Kuck points out the consequences of this morass:

Every single [person approved but waiting for a visa] has a job offer, an employer, and a certification that either there are no qualified, willing and able US workers for the job, or that the individual is so good, we do not even have to test the labor market. We need these people. We want these people. How many do you think will now just give up and go home?

So what?, critics ask, we don’t need more of “them.” Well, look at what some of “them” have done. My friend Joel Rosenthal points out that one of Google’s co-founders is an immigrant. This year, the first six Nobel Prize winners were American citizens. Four were immigrants (winning the Medicine and Physics Prizes).

Our immigration system is broke. We need to fix it. If we don’t, how many future Nobel Prize winners and genuises in technology, medicine and science will we have kept from bringing their expertise to this country?


As we have in the past, we should embrace our immigrant roots and recognize that newcomers to our land are not part of the problem, they are part of the solution.

Archbishop Roger Mahony, “A Nation That Should Know Better

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1 comment to Why we must fix our immigration system

  • On the light side I was glad to see you did not include the Nobel Peace prize as one earned by an immigrant. Next, the problem you note in the professional ranks could and should be fixed, but it won't be as long as fences, borders and illegals are the focus of "immigration reform". This is where I part company from most of my Republican brethern — there is no way to send anyone "home" nor can you make life so uncomfortable they want to leave. (Shades of the Jewish refugee ships in the late 30's I could go on and on here but won't.) However one can protect the borders (I once thought you could not but in discussing it with my little sister who is better traveled than I she shut me up by just saying "You have never seen the DMZ have you?") We now come to the question of why. Why protect the border? Let me ask you what would happen if we had a world wide democracy all issues resolved by a vote? Well the world would vote for a strictly enforced 1200 calorie a day diet that's what would happen. (You and I would vote against it of course.) Now if we can not control our own border the question of a world wide democracy is only one of time …